Small Boats Next On Rishi Sunak's Hit List Of Summer Attacks
Westminster may be on its summer break but Rishi Sunak and his government are busy showing glimpses of how they will try to rebuild Tory support and attack the Labour Party between now and the general election.
Next week the government will focus its messaging on small boats, PoliticsHome understands, with Downing Street planning to hammer home its pledge to reduce Channel crossings through their controversial Illegal Migration Bill and plans to house migrants on barges.
Migration is area where the Prime Minister has clearly escalated his language in recent weeks.
In a tweet last week, Sunak described Labour as "a subset of lawyers, criminal gangs" and accused the opposition party of being on the "same side" as human traffickers who transport migrants to the south coast of England in small boats.
Labour figures were outraged by the tweet, including shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry, who called the attack "utterly pathetic" and said it demeaned the PM's office, but it's set to be a sign of things to come as the Conservative party tries to exploit potential chinks in Labour's armour, with Starmer's party continuing to enjoy large, double-digit leads in the opinion polls.
This week the government is focused on energy, with the headline announcement coming on Monday when the Prime Minister said he had decided to grant hundreds of new licences allowing significantly more drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea.
Sunak said that approving more drilling off the coast of Scotland would make the UK less dependent on foreign states like Russia by boosting domestic supply.
Sunak argued that it was also an environmentally friendly move because generating energy at home produces less carbon emissions than importing it from overseas, though he was accused by critics like Tory MP Chris Skidmore of shirking the government's net zero responsibilities by not doing enough to embrace renewable energy.
However, the pros and cons of drilling for gas and oil aside, the announcement has also come with strikingly aggressive Conservative party attacks on Keir Starmer's Labour, which is committed to banning new gas and oil licenses.
Sunak in a tweet said Labour's policy would "protect Russian jobs". His press secretary doubled down when asked about the tweet on Monday. "Obviously, if you are importing oil and gas from other countries then you are necessarily propping up their domestic industries and that includes jobs," they told reporters yesterday.
Scarlett Maguire, Director at JL Partners Polls, said we should expect Sunak and the Tory government to go "hell for leather" on areas where they think the public still has reservations about Labour, even if the opposition is far ahead in the voter intention surveys.
“We're now finding dividing lines between the two parties and it’s no coincidence that this is happening after the by-elections,” Maguire told PoliticsHome.
“The Conservatives are looking at their atrocious loss in Selby and Ainsty and thinking any chance they have at the next general election is on issues where they feel that they can exploit Labour’s weaknesses, and go hell for leather on them," she explained.
"They will be looking at areas where voters still have some hesitation about Labour, like immigration and spending too much."
Since the Conservative party's surprise by-election win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where it successfully appealed to local opposition to Sadiq Khan's plan to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), the PM has sought to push a "pro-motorist" agenda and a "pragmatic" approach to net zero, accusing Labour of pursuing its green agenda with insufficient regard for how much it will cost ordinary people.
There is over a month to go until MPs return to parliament from recess, and between now and then Sunak is expected to take the fight to Labour on areas where Tory command feels they can exploit as dividing lines at the next general election.
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